Saints in Need of Grace

Philippians 4:21-23

Today we arrive at the twenty-first sermon of this series called “The Joyful Life,” having examined nearly the entire letter Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. As you may know by now, they were experiencing not only difficult and hurtful treatment by the unbelieving community around them but also agitation and disunity among them within the church.

So, Paul wrote this letter to encourage their faith and motivate them to persevere in following Christ. The irony of this letter is that Paul himself was writing from an uncomfortable prison cell in Rome awaiting a trial due to his witness and impact for Christ, knowing that death by execution could be a possible outcome of his trial. Yet, here he was, from his own suffering in prison writing a letter to encourage unity in the church and perseverance in following Christ.

Throughout this letter, Paul seeks to inspire a deep, inner attitude of joy. We’ve discovered that it is a “calm, confident, contented enthusiasm that’s focused on Christ.” As your pastor, I pray that no matter what your personal and spiritual circumstances may be, that you have made some discernable, experiential, tangible progress on this front through this series, learning how to experience such joy on a regular basis. Such joy is the privilege of everyone who follows Christ by faith – if you will accept and apply the truths which this precious letter teaches.

In the timeless musical, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews (as Maria and a nanny), recognizes an obvious negative and unhappy aura within the von Trapp family home. So, to remedy that problem, she sets out to inject some happiness into their lives by singing. To this end, she sings:

Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi

That’s exactly what Paul as he brings this letter to a close. He does this, in fact, in three special ways:

  • First, he ends (Phil 4:21) his letter the way he began (Phil 1:2), by greeting all the believers in the church.
  • Second, he singles out a special group of people – high-ranking prison staff – both at the beginning (Phil 1:13) and end (Phil 4:22). His first mention of them highlights his witness to them for Christ, while his second mention of them highlights their belief on Christ as a result of his witness.
  • Third, he ends (Phil 4:23) his letter the way he began (Phil 1:2) in another way, requesting grace from God, through Christ, to them.

Paul considered suffering and sacrifice and struggle for the gospel all to be grace. This can be seen in 1:29, where the verbal form of charis or “grace,” was used by Paul to say, “For it has been granted [graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Suffering for the gospel was a grace in Paul’s thinking and theology. So when the Philippians fellowshiped in Paul’s sufferings, they partook of grace. (R. Kent Hughes)

Words of affirmation increase our joy.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.

Paul models this behavior for us here. Speaking this way to one another in the church increases joy within both your own heart and the hearts of those you affirm with your words.

As we consider what Paul said, we must distinguish between proper and improper affirmation. As you may know, ‘affirmation’ is a trendy social concept today. The prevailing version of this concept consists of one person approving or validating the beliefs, claims, feelings, or views of another person. While doing so may seems like a polite thing to do at first glance, we must distinguish between two types of validation.

The first type of validation assumes that whatever belief, claim, feeling, or view a person may express, it must by default be accepted as valid. This view implies that it is impolite and potentially harmful to object to the claims expressed by another person.

The second type of validation evaluates the quality of whatever belief, claim, feeling, or view a person may express. This view seeks to affirm only those beliefs, claims, feelings, and views are inherently true, while refraining from affirming whatever is false or invalid.

Having made this distinction, we should observe that Paul does not affirm or validate whatever the believers at Philippi felt, thought, said, or did. Throughout this letter, he has pushed back against invalid beliefs, feelings, and views knowing that a wrong mindset – no matter how real it may seem to be – diminishes our ability to experience genuine joy and to persevere through the difficulties we face in following Christ.

Instead, Paul has consistently affirmed that which is genuinely true, and that’s how he ends this letter, too. As he makes his concluding remarks to the believers in the church at Philippi, he speaks words of affirmation to them. But in doing so, he affirms what is actually true about them as followers of Christ – and we should follow his example towards one another.

Acknowledge one another.

First, we see the obvious – that he greeted people. In doing so, he deliberately acknowledged both the believers at Philippi and the believers who were with him in Rome. If we were to explain this simple reality in opposite terms, we would say that he didn’t ignore, neglect, or overlook them. He said hello. One of the most basic, fundamental things any of us can do for another is to acknowledge the indisputable fact of each other’s existence. Make eye contact. Say hello. Make a phone call. Send a text message. Use a person’s name.

More than a decade ago, I managed bus routes in Milwaukee which provided a ride to church for children and teens in underprivileged neighborhoods. Any given bus ride would transport anywhere from 10 to 60 young people at a time, many of whom received very little attention or love throughout the week. So, I trained those who volunteered to serve in these routes to look every rider in the eye and to speak to every rider by name at least once per bus ride. It was our goal to acknowledge every single rider whenever they rode so that they did not feel unimportant or as though they didn’t exist. The members of any church should each do their part to ensure that no member feels invisible.

In 2013, Trudy Ludwig wrote a children’s picture book (illustrated by Patrice Barton) called “The Invisible Boy.” In this gently written story, she demonstrates how “small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish.” To do this, she portrays a young boy named Brian, whom nobody in class ever seems to notice or think to include in their group, game, or birthday party…until a new kid, Justin, comes to class.

“When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.” What’s remarkable about this story is that it is Brian, the neglected, overlooked child, who takes the initial step to reach out to someone else! Through this story, “a simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend.”

This is the power of acknowledging one another in the church, as well. And who should do this best but those who have been loved and received by Jesus Christ and who claim to be following him.

Acknowledge one another equally.

Notice how Paul doesn’t just say “greetings” or “greet the saints,” but he says “greet every saint.” This deliberate wording on Paul’s part indicates that he wants every believer in the church at Philippi to feel equally important and valuable not only in God’s site, but also in his. For Paul, there are no “more important” and “less important” people in the church. Though each person brings something different to the group and each member fills a different role – some roles being more visibly prominent than others, all members deserve to feel equally significant – because they are.

Acknowledge one another’s special calling.

Notice how Paul calls every believer as saint. This description means a “holy person” and emphasizes that as followers of Christ, we belong to God. This means we must no longer live for our own enjoyment and satisfaction but for his.

As saints we are also consecrated by God, specifically and specially called and commissioned to serve him. So, we not only have a special position before God, but we have a special purpose from God, as well. True joy only comes as we devote ourselves to carrying out and fulfilling that purpose together – the purpose of helping people take their next steps in following Christ.

We find joy not by being served but by serving! How are you devoting yourself to Christ’s service first within your church family and secondly within your community as a witness for Christ? This is not a duty for a select few but the calling of us all – including you! This is why it is vitally important to become a committed, functioning member of a gospel-believing, Bible-teaching church family – so that you can play a crucial role and become a more joyful person who finds joy in fulfilling your God-given calling. “There is joy in serving Jesus!”

Acknowledge one another’s familial closeness.

Notice how Paul calls every believer a brother. I’ve spoken about this before, in fact, I think this was a primary talking point in the very first sermon I ever preached at Brookdale, when I preached from Psa 133. So, I won’t belabor this point here today. But I do want to emphasize how important it is that we treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, because that’s what we are. As Christ himself emphatically taught (Mark 3:33-35):

He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

This is how Christ views you. Do we view and treat one another the same way? We are a real, spiritual family in Christ.

Altogether, these words of acknowledgement and affirmation by Paul aim imply a very important purpose behind Paul’s writing and aim at a very important cause for genuine joy within our lives – the experience of harmony and unity within the church. As commentator Frank Thielman observes:

The final greetings in Philippians (vv. 21–22) are apparently formulated with care to encourage the unity of the church. Thus the way Paul phrases his personal greetings to the church is unique among his letters in its stress on each member of the congregation without distinction …. Just as Paul stressed the unity of the congregation at the letter’s beginning when he addressed them as “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi,” so here at the letter’s conclusion he again stresses the equal worth before God of each member of the congregation. Each has been set apart to belong to God’s chosen people.

As Paul taught so caringly and clearly in Phil 2:2-4:

fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Christian friendships increase our joy.
The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.

“A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (Prov 18:24). This means that to develop close friendships requires effort on your part. Close friendships do not generally develop for people who don’t try. To have friends, you must be friendly. You must deliberately introduce yourself to people, learn about one another, plan ways to spend time with one another, and involve yourself in one another’s lives. Paul demonstrates this quality for us in his conclusion to his letter to the believers at Philippi.

Maintain ongoing friendships with believers.

First, we see that Paul exchanges greetings between believers who were with him in prison and believers who were back in Philippi. He says, “The brethren who are with me greet you.” The people who were with him likely refers to people like Epaphroditus and Timothy, who already had an existing relationship with the believers at Philippi. How can we do this ourselves?

Ironically, we can do exactly what Paul did here – send mail and write letters or notes to one another, both to people in our immediate sphere of church relationships and to believers we may know from past spheres of church relationships. Sending annual Christmas cards, for instance, is a great way to do this. Maintaining active Facebook connections is another way to achieve this, for instance. And these are certainly not our only options. In summary, don’t take your existing Christian friendships for granted. Maintain them – both present and prior friendships – throughout your lifetime.

Build new friendships with more believers.

When Paul says “all the saints greet you,” he includes other believers from Rome whom he had met while in prison but whom the believers at Philippi did not yet know. By expressing his greeting this way, Paul is helping the believers at Philippi establish new relationships with more believers. Though we may not be capable of being “best friends” with every believer in our church family (and certainly not outside our church family, too), we all have far more relationship capacity than we may realize, and we need more friends than we may realize, too – even though not all friends will be “bosom” friends.

Some may call what Paul is doing here “networking,” connecting his friends from one place or sphere of life to his friends in another place or sphere of life. In other words, he is sharing his friends with his friends. He was not an insecure person who clutched his friends tightly, hoping to keep them to himself. Instead, he endeavored to build relationship bridges between believers as much as possible.

Make friendships with new believers.

When Paul singles out “those who are of Caesar’s household,” he draws attention to a special subgroup of the Christan friends he had made in Rome. These friends were not those believers in the church at Rome who he had met when he arrived there. These friends were those who were employed by Caesar to manage the prison at Rome and who had been nonbelievers at the time of Paul’s arrival. However, sometime between Paul’s arrival and the writing of this letter, they had believed on Christ as God and Savior as a result of Paul’s involvement in their lives.

From this, we see the importance of being a friend to nonbelievers whom God has placed into our lives for the purpose of expressing the love of Christ to them, through our Christlike treatment of them and through speaking to them about Christ.

The grace of Christ increases our joy.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

The standard way to greeting the recipients of a personal letter in Paul’s time was to say, “Greetings,” or, “Good health to you!” Paul modified and expanded this standard form to say so much more – and he reiterated this greeting at the end of his letter, too.

Paul cleverly used a modified form of the Greek form for “greetings” (χαίρειν) to say “grace” instead (χάρις). By desiring grace for the believers at Philippi, Paul wanted them to experience the undeserved and unreserved goodness of God to the greatest possible degree.

Mark Keown describes this as Paul’s prayer “for divine favor in the fullest sense … that God’s grace would be sufficient for them, sustaining them and giving them hope, optimism, and triumph in all circumstances.”

Or, as I like to say, grace is the unlimited ability and resources from God to “be what we must be and to do what we must do.” The more we accept this reality, the more we will experience the calm, confident, contented enthusiasm that Christ provides.

Pray this way for one another.

Paul expresses these words as a prayer to God, one that specifically asks God to provide grace from the Lord Jesus Christ to the believers at Philippi.

Since we know that God has already provided us with the full supply of his grace from the moment that we believed on Christ onward, in what way then should we ask God for grace if all of his grace has already been provided?

Paul’s request here is not for the believers to receive more grace, but for God’s grace to be more consistently and completely applied to the everyday thoughts, feelings, and actions of their lives. In other words, he is asking God to increase their awareness of their need for grace, their acceptance of the sufficiency of God’s grace, and their access and appropriation of God’s grace in a more consistent and complete manner.

To illustrate, consider how certain credit cards or memberships, like a AAA membership, provide holders with a variety of benefits. When you rent a car, for instance, you may purchase additional vehicle insurance to protect you from the costs of accidental damage to the vehicle. Before you pay additional the $$$ for such insurance, though, you should see whether your personal credit card or auto insurance policy already provides such insurance. Many people waste money paying for additional coverage because they either forget or simply aren’t aware that their credit card or insurance policy already provides such coverage at no extra cost.

So it is with grace. We have all of God’s grace available to us for every challenge that we face, enabling us to persevere joyfully through any circumstance. Yet how frequently do we remember this, relying wholeheartedly upon Christ for whatever we need? Instead, we frequently default to responses like anxiety, complaining, discouragement, and withdrawal. Since awareness of and appropriation of God’s grace is not our natural, normal response to difficulties, we must pray for one another to grow in our acknowledgement of God’s grace in our daily lives. Praying for one another this way increases our potential as a church to experience joy more abundantly.

Christ provides grace personally.

God provides his grace to us personally through the work of Jesus Christ. Though we should pray for one another and assist one another in following Christ, God provides his grace to us directly, individually, and personally – not through the intermediary agency of church leaders and rituals. Furthermore, we do not earn God’s grace. We receive it freely as a gift from him to us.

Christ provides grace equally.

Notice how Paul says “with you all.” By speaking this way, Paul makes clear that all of God’s grace is completely available to all of God’s people. All of us have equal access to all of God’s grace. There are not some believers who have more access to God’s grace than others. There are only some who are more aware of and actively dependent upon God’s grace than others. The difference is not with what God has provided but with how we appropriate what he has provided. If you ever feel as though you have less ability to experience joy than another believer, less ability to persevere than another believer, then you have a wrong perspective. You have all of God’s grace available to you, just as every other believer in the world.

Friends, we live in an age of excuses. Everyone has a reason – usually a very complicated reason or set of reasons – for why they cannot be what they should be and do what they should do. And while we must affirm that people, many people – even many believers, do indeed experience excruciating things and face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we have no good reason for why we cannot experience the peace and joy of God and why we cannot persevere in following Christ and serving God with enthusiasm and confidence.

If Paul experienced joy and fruitful ministry from a prison cell in Rome, facing a possible death penalty, and if Christ himself experienced joy despite the fact that he was on a mission to die a horrible, humiliating, undeserved death on the cross for our sins, then we have no good excuse for disharmony, pessimism, hopelessness, and withdrawal. May the grace of God enable us all to experience the joy of Christ as we persevere in following Christ together through anything that life brings our way.

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